A Montessori Approach to making dinner with your children, means, making dinner time as calm and as fun as possible.
A happy place where children can start building a positive relationship with food.
As most of you know I believe very strongly in the Montessori philosophy. I try to apply it to all realms of my children's lives. Keeping an organized, clean, ordered environment allows children to feel calm and safe.
The dinner table should not be any different.
Try to make dinner time another area in your home where you can use learning as device and a method to encourage healthy happy eating habits.
There is so much to get inspiration from. For example, use current events to integrate into the meal time menu. While the world cup was on we featured a new country as much as possible. It's easy to gear your menus around a particular country. Don't stop there!
Print out a copy of the flag of Mexico for example. Find images of Mexico and display around the table or tell them a story about the country and it's people.
I usually get old calendars when they are practically free at the end of the year. Calendars have bright vivid pictures of absolutely everything. ( if you happen to have a laminator, ( I do, I am a pre-school teacher)! laminate them, they last the test of dinner time much better!
I could go on forever with endless possibilities for learning with calendars...but, back to eating. Feature Tacos that week, Quesadillas, Mexican spaghetti soup, Fish with fruit salsa...etc. I will have more recipes for you I promise.
The table should be a mix of practical, fantasy and fun. The Montessori Approach tells us that children feel much more comfortable in a world that they can manipulate and control. Use a small table, small chairs, small forks and knives, small plates and small bowls.
Use elements that allow them to participate and be a part of the table experience. Have a small jar (in this case a small tea pot) with water, milk or juice that is small enough for them to manipulate on their own.
It may make for some more mess at the end of the day but they very quickly get the hang of it. It's even better if you practice pouring exercises outside in the yard with them to really perfect the technique!
Small portions are key to a happy dinner!
Portion counts when feeding kids. If you feed them an adult sized plate they will automatically become intimidated and will begin to become anxious or start to complain. Avoid that feeling by serving up small sizes. You can always serve seconds!
If your children are still not ready for sitting on their own at the table then set the large table with highchairs with the same magic. Often, if my children start to get the wiggles, I introduce the sashes or ribbons to use as a seat belt! They love choosing their colors!
I keep all my old paper bags from gifts, I keep wrapping paper, I keep ribbon. My husband thinks I'm crazy but if you keep it in a small box it shouldn't bother any one!
Have the children pick flowers for the table.
Make the "witching hour" as we like to call it in my family, a fun one. Have them explore in the garden for flowers. let them pick them and help them choose a small vase and fill it with water.
Have the children help you set the table and place the small vase of flowers on the table. It helps to get the attention off the food and on to something else. Collect, leaves pine cones, tiwgs, place them in the mystery bag and talk about them during dinner.
The Montessori Mystery Bag:
We often play the Mystery Bag game. Place small paper bags at each persons place. Fill with objects around the house, magazine clippings, a book... anything. Tell the children that you are in charge of picking out something from each bag while the children eat. Describe the object in the bag while the children chew and think! Once they guess congratulate them. Bites are good and get a new object from somebody else's bag. No bites mean we delay the game.
Have fun with your children and don't be afraid to introduce fresh, green yellow, red foods to your children. Chef At Home, says that you should put the food out you want your child to eat everyday.
For example, my children would not eat a fresh pepper a year ago. Every night I put out an assortment of yellow, red and orange peppers. They were almost always ignored. I ate a lot of peppers this year! One day my son took a bite of his pepper without even realizing it. I did not say a word. The two girls were soon to follow as they do everything their big brother does.
Today there are peppers on the table and they are all gone by the end of the meal. No fuss!
Play food allows for the element of magic and mystery!
Although the books say that dessert should not be talked about or used to entice children to the end of their meal. I often tease them by placing their play food on the table just as reminder of what may come if there is proper eating at the table. In my house that means do the best you can...with no tears!!!
It doesn't always go perfectly. In fact, meal time is still one of the hardest parts of the day for me. But, I have not given up. I think it has paid off, and I hope that one day eating will be as natural and as fun to them as watching an episode of Mickey Mouse!